News flash #2: the New England Patriots don't have a lot of healthy defensive backs.
In a game that the Patriots are expected to be heavily reliant on their defensive backfield. And unfortunately, the Patriots have the most question marks in their secondary that they have had all year. Let's take a quick run-down of each player listed on the injury report the secondary:
Alfonzo Dennard: The cornerback underwent a procedure on his meniscus last week, and looked hobbled at practice all week. He's officially listed on the injury report as questionable, but was limited in practice all week and is not expected to play. The Patriots could desperately use him on the outside, but don't count on him suiting up. Prediction: Inactive.
Kyle Arrington: Arrington is listed as questionable with a groin injury, but most are expecting him to play. His presence will be key, as he has seen the most snaps of any Patriots cornerback in the slot this season, and is expected to match up against former Patriot Wes Welker. Prediction: Active, plays majority of snaps in slot
Aqib Talib: Talib finally returned from his hip injury to play the Panthers, before exiting the game late, and landing as questionable on the injury report. I expect him to play, but will be wary of him in press coverage after he struggled against Steve Smith last week. Prediction: Active, starts on outside against Demaryius Thomas
Steve Gregory: Gregory returned to practice this week after breaking his thumb against the Steelers in week nine. He donned a bulky cast on his thumb in practice, but most are expecting him to play. They'll need him, as he is the communication leader of their secondary. Prediction: Plays, starts at safety
The Patriots' defensive backs are going to have to play through various bumps and bruises for tonight's game. While we are still several hours away from knowing the final inactives, it seems likely that Alfonzo Dennard will be the only one missing the game completely. Meanwhile, Aqib Talib should cover Demaryius Thomas, Kyle Arrington Welker, and Steve Gregory will likely assume one safety spot. The wildcard in the defensive backfield surrounds Devin McCourty. McCourty has primarily been a free safety this season, but as you well know, came into the league as a cornerback. The Patriots, if they trust rookie Duron Harmon enough, could opt to move McCourty to one of the boundary corner spots, keeping rookie Logan Ryan off of either Thomas or Eric Decker.